Mark the date, people: Oct. 6, 2018.

Not since 1848 have we seen such a dramatic answer to a collective people’s fervent prayers. That’s a whopping 170 years ago, for those keeping score.

It was late July 1847 when the Mormon pioneers first arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. After struggling through the ensuing winter, the settlers were looking forward to their first full growing season in the spring of 1848. Crops were planted, and the pioneers seemed well on their way toward becoming self-sufficient in their new home.

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But according to traditional accounts, sometime in late May of 1848 swarms of what have since become known as “Mormon crickets” (or, “The Crickets of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” under the new church-naming guidelines) descended upon the pioneers’ fields and began devouring their precious crops.

The pioneers tried stomping, drowning and burning the insects, but to no avail. The new settlement was on the brink of ruin.

In desperation, these hardy pioneers who’d already been through so many trials sank to their knees and prayed to God for deliverance. And in early June, the Lord responded.

Ah, but what new evil was this? In answer to those prayers, great flocks of seagulls darkened the skies and began descending on the pioneers’ fields. No doubt many pioneers thought the gulls were there to finish the job the crickets had started, eating anything the insects had left behind.

But then the miracle occurred.

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Rather than picking over the remaining crops, the gulls began eating the crickets. And not just eating them, but doing their best impersonation of a bulimic supermodel. A bird would gorge itself on crickets, fly off to drink in the stream and vomit up all those cricket parts, then return again to the fields to eat more crickets.

Eventually, the gulls consumed all the crickets, the crops were saved, the early church pioneers established a foothold on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, and the rest — as they say — is history.

This inspiring story has long been referred to as “The Miracle of the Gulls.” There’s even a monument to the incident on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Dedicated Oct. 1, 1913, the Seagull Monument is believed to be the first such tribute erected to a bird.

And now, 105 years later, it may be time for a second monument to commemorate a second bona fide miracle in the LDS Church: “The Miracle of the One-Third Less Church Meetings.”

This miracle just occurred on Saturday morning, at the opening session of the faith’s 188th Semiannual General Conference. Church leaders effectively announced that, beginning Jan. 1, 2019, the traditional three-hour block of church meetings was being pared back by a full hour.

You heard that right, Faithful Folk Formerly Known As Mormons. Starting in January, church is only going to be two hours long.

For decades, many of us had secretly prayed for deliverance from the weekly three-hour hostage situation at the local meetinghouse. And now, it’s finally happening.

It’s probably a good thing members of our faith don’t drink. Because if they did, the streets of Salt Lake City this weekend would have made the riots following a sports championship in a major city look like a Sunday School class by comparison.

Speaking of Sunday School classes, under the new schedule the worship service called sacrament meeting will be cut from 70 minutes to an hour each week. The remaining time in the new two-hour block will be filled with Sunday School on the first and third Sundays, and Priesthood/Relief Society/youth meetings on the second and fourth Sundays.

Such is my excitement over this 33.3 percent reduction in Sunday meetings that as a columnist I’m giving the church a pass on that whole renaming of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir thing.

In keeping with a recent decision to purge the “Mormon” nickname, on Friday the church announced it was changing the name of the iconic singing group to The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. Ordinarily, I’d have some fun with that little housekeeping decision. But I’m so giddy over Saturday morning’s announcement that they can call the choir *NSYNC for all I care.

And all joking aside, may I just say that I’m really taken with this new prophet. Many people worried about his age when he took over the reins of the church earlier this year, but at age 94 President Nelson has clearly shown that he’s not afraid of change.

In fact, if the church does opt to to add a statue near the Seagull Monument to commemorate Saturday’s miracle, I vote for a bronze statue of President Russell M. Nelson, standing forth like a modern-day Moses, his staff firmly planted in the alkaline soil of the Utah desert as he boldly proclaims:

“Let my people go … an hour early.”

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

(4) comments

KarlTownsend

I agree that less church time is indeed a miracle Mark. I have a question though. We've all heard the story of the crickets devouring the crops. The accounts make it sound like there were billions of them flying around. What I don't understand is that although I still see huge numbers of seagulls I don't know if I've ever seen more than 2 or 3 crickets in all my years living in Utah. Was this a once-in-a-millenium event or did the crickets just get so wiped out in that one event that the population never recovered? I like urban legends as much as the next guy, but I'm not sure I believe this one.

MarkSaal Staff
MarkSaal

Hi Karl. I actually did a story about this a number of years ago. Most local historians told me that while there may have been a Mormon cricket infestation, and some seagulls may have showed up to eat them, they suspect the story has been somewhat embellished over the years. (The most damning evidence: There's no contemporary records of the event, only recollections by pioneers decades later.) However, there are occasional Mormon cricket infestations in the Intermountain area (Google it!) and they can do quite a bit of damage.

thegodfrey

It was the Rocky Mountain Locust and it was a real thing, but it has gone extinct now. Here is a really interesting podcast/audio piece about them and early American life: https://thememorypalace.us/2018/09/lost-locusts/

KarlTownsend

Thanks Mark and thegodfrey - I'll do a bit more research.

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